Koha ki Kawerau: Being a blessing to others

By Herewini Waikato

Rowena Brooking of Kawerau has been providing food packages to her community for over a year.

She saw a need for food and basic necessities among residents and is doing her best to help out.

Now the Koha ki Kawerau manager g is calling for more support from the community and social services to meet the high demand.

“They may have a little bit of money to pay with kai for a few days but, for the rest of the week, there is no kai and I am there to fill that gap,” she said.

Brooking, her daughter Dēreon Rongokea and friends have been volunteering in distributing to whoever is in need in the community.

“Yes, gang-related, it doesn’t matter, our koroua and kuia who don’t have the support at home. Our solo mamas and solo papas. I am going to be very honest I have been very blessed and this is my way of giving back,” she said.

 She spends $300 a week on food from her own pocket to care for her community.

Overcoming whakamā

Ngarimu Daniels, an old high school friend of Brooking, was at the Koha ki Kawerau headquarters, which is Brookings’s car shed at her home. Daniels helps to pack nutritious healthy food packs with meat, vegetables, eggs, milk, and toiletries including women’s personal requirements and the odd chocolate treats for tamariki.

“The families support this initiative because Brooking is not one to judge. It is easy for them to come here and get help,” she said.

A lot of the time whānau would be too whakamā or shy to ask for help but with Brookings’s humility and kindness, people are able to work through this and reach out to Koha ki Kawerau, Daniels said.

The closure in June 2020 of the paper mill in Kawerau left 160 people out of jobs. Koha ki Kawerau has helped some of these families and they have collected food in other ways to do so. Brooking thanks other families who helped with this initiative, including the pig hunters and the meat they provide and fishermen and the fish they provide. And she said she got huge help from Kawerau New World and Have a Heart.  

Waiwhakāta Mclauthlin received her two bags of kai worth $100.

“The prices of food have just gone skyrocketed and on a small income, even working families find it quite hard to actually be able to pay for the necessities,” Mclauthlin said. Rebecca Mclaren and her two children were waiting beside their letterbox as Brooking arrived with their two bags of kai and Mclaren told Brooking: “Honestly, you are a star”.

“It has been really tough, especially the cost of fuel, the cost of food, everything. We struggle on a daily basis. If we didn’t have Koha ki Kawerau helping us, we would lose our roof and I wouldn’t be able to feed our kids,” she said.

Kawerau won’t wait

Kawerau has 7500 residents and  Brooking delivers food parcels five days a week to her community. Of those who get food parcels, 75% are Māori.

Nw there is a call from Brooking for more help. And not only she but also Daniels would like to see more support from the government but she is adamant Kawerau is not going to wait around.

“That’s the great thing about this community. We get on with it. That’s just us,” she said.

“I will be doing this for as long as I can, Brooking said. “I will be in Kawerau forever. I am happy doing what I am doing.”

The next goal for Koha ki Kawerau is to obtain a place to prepare and distribute food.